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Playoff & Draft Watch, Week 10: Climbing the Walls

Oh, so you thought you could relax during the bye week? Foolish mortal!

Kevin Casey

After ten weeks of play, the Seahawks are holding on to the sixth and final NFC playoff spot with a 6-4 record. As mentioned in last week's column, the 'Hawks have started 6-4 (or better) a total of 11 times in franchise history; on nine such occasions, they've reached the postseason. And not only does their record bode well, they also have head-to-head tiebreakers against both the Packers and the Vikings. What could possibly go wrong??

I'll tell you what can go wrong: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That's right, our expansion brethren from the south bay has overcome a 1-3 start, rattled off three straight wins, and are now just one half-game behind both the Seahawks and the Vikings, both of whom will be idle for week 11. With the Bucs travelling to Carolina next week, there's a very real possibility that Tampa Bay could pull even. This is not a good thing for the Seahawks, who have beaten two of the three NFC North teams they've faced thus far but do not have the same experience the Buccaneers. In fact, there's a good chance that Tampa Bay could crash the NFC Wild Card party and leave Seattle on the outs, despite having the same record.

Before we go into all the ramifications of the bye week, let's first recap the conference standings after Week 10.

Division Leaders:
1. Falcons (8-1)
2. Bears (7-2)
3. 49ers (6-2-1)
4. Giants (6-4)

Wild Cards:
5. Packers (6-3)
6. Seahawks (6-4, beat MIN)

Outside Looking In:
7. Vikings (6-4, lost to SEA)
8. Buccaneers (5-4)
9. Saints (4-5, 3-3 Conf., .556 Strength of Victory)
10. Cowboys (4-5, 4-4 Conf., .432 Strength of Victory)
11. Lions (4-5, 3-4 Conf.)
12. Cardinals (4-5, 2-4 Conf.)
13. Rams (3-5-1)
14. Eagles (3-6, 1-1 Div.)
15. Redskins (3-6, 0-1 Div.)
16. Panthers (2-7)

(The 4-5 traffic jam is explained thusly: all four teams tied at 4-5 are of different divisions, so nobody gets sent to the back of the bus automatically. The Saints and Cowboys tie for conference record. They don't have enough common opponents to have that come into play, so the next tiebreaker is strength of victory. The teams that the Saints have defeated - Atlanta, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and San Diego have a better combined record than the teams Dallas has defeated - Philadelphia, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and the Giants. Now that that's settled, the Lions and Cardinals rank behind them both due to inferior conference record. For more information on the bowels of NFL tiebreakers, click here.)

Now that the easy stuff is out of the way, let's get into what could possibly happen next week. Two games are of particular importance, as far as our wild card prospects are concerned: Tampa Bay's game at Carolina, and the Packers game at Detroit. Depending on the outcome of both games, the standings could really be shaken up - despite the fact that two of the teams that are implicated aren't even playing. Here's the skinny:

If both GB and TB win: The Packers would go to 7-3; depending on whether or not the Bears win (@ SF), the Packers could end up leading the NFC North while the Bears get knocked to fifth. Meanwhile, the Seahawks, Vikings, and Buccaneers would all tie at 6-4. The tiebreaker against Minnesota would no longer be in play since we don't play Tampa Bay. Thus, conference record would be used, and the Vikings would get the #6 spot by virtue of a 4-3 conference record. The Seahawks would rank seventh with a 4-4 conference record, and the Bucs would be in eighth at 3-4.

If both GB and TB lose: The Buccaneers would be at 5-5, not good enough to threaten for a wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Seahawks, Packers, and Vikings would all tie with a 6-4 record. Because Seattle has beaten both Green Bay and Minnesota head-to-head, they'd get the #5 spot. Meanwhile, Minnesota would beat out the Packers for the #6 spot by virtue of a 2-0 Divisional record against the Packers' record of 1-1.

If GB wins and TB loses: This would pretty much be status quo; either the Packers or Bears would get the #5 spot, depending on how the Bears do against the Niners. The Seahawks would stay at #6 because of their win over Minnesota, the Vikings would be at #7, and the Bucs at #8.

If GB loses and TB wins: Buckle up. All four teams would tie with a 6-4 record. By rule, only one team from each division would survive the first tiebreaker. Thus, the Packers would get knocked down to #8 because of their inferior divisional record to the Vikings. The Vikings, Seahawks, and Buccaneers would then get the #5, #6, and #7 spots respectively, with the same conference records as the first situation.

You'll notice that in none of these possible situations would the the Buccaneers actually make it into the playoff picture; they'd just screw it up for the three teams that have been fighting for those spots the last few weeks. So please, Buccaneers. We let you guys win a Super Bowl before us. Do us this one favor and LOSE NEXT WEEK.

Now that all those permutations are dancing in your head, you probably don't even want to see the draft order. Well, too bad.

1. Chiefs (1-8, .513 SOS)
2. Jaguars (1-8, .538 SOS)
3. Browns (2-7, .475 SOS)
4. Panthers (2-7, .504 SOS)
5. Raiders (3-6, .472 SOS)
6. Bills (3-6, .476 SOS)
7. Rams via Redskins (3-6, .500 SOS, 0-1 Div.)
8. Eagles (3-6, .500 SOS, 1-1 Div.)
9. Jets (3-6, .512 SOS)
10. Rams (3-5-1, .534 SOS)
11. Titans (4-6, .542 SOS)
12. Dolphins (4-5, .415 SOS)
13. Bengals (4-5, .424 SOS)
14. Chargers (4-5, .466 SOS)
15. Saints (4-5, .487 SOS)
16. Cowboys (4-5, .529 SOS)
17. Cardinals (4-5, .555 SOS)
18. Lions (4-5, .590 SOS)
19. Buccaneers (5-4, .441 SOS)
20. Seahawks (6-4, .500 SOS)
21. Giants (6-4, .517 SOS)
22. Vikings (6-4, .537 SOS)
23. Steelers (6-3, .420 SOS)
24. Colts (6-3, .462 SOS)
25. Patriots (6-3, .512 SOS)
26. Broncos (6-3, .513 SOS)
27. Packers (6-3, .548 SOS)
28. 49ers (6-2-1, .521 SOS)
29. Ravens (7-2, .475 SOS)
30. Bears (7-2, .494 SOS)
31. Falcons (8-1, .415 SOS)
32. Texans (8-1, .529 SOS)

(Strength of schedule is found by calculating the win-loss records of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule. Divisional opponents are given double weight because they are played twice. Divisional record breaks any ties, followed by a coinflip.)

We still don't have a team that can either clinch a playoff berth with a win next week or faces playoff elimination with a loss, but keep your eyes on the Falcons and Jaguars to be the first candidates in each category. One more win puts the Falcons at 9-1, giving them at least a three game lead in the NFC South with only six left to play. Meanwhile, a Jaguar loss puts them at 1-9, and despite the AFC being relatively week, there are enough semi-decent teams in the fold that nine losses would be enough to essentially doom any team.

Finally, we turn our attention to next week's slate of games. We mentioned the two teams who will directly influence our playoff chances, but there are a few other games we'll want to keep our eye on:

ARI @ ATL: The Cardinals are in a tailspin; let's keep it that way. Go Falcons.

CHI @ SF: A tricky game, this one. The Seahawks currently trail the 49ers by three quarters of a game. (When's the last time you heard that?) A Niner win puts that lead over a full game, meaning we'd have to make up two victories over the 49ers in the remaining six (one of which is a head-to-head matchup), and puts the Bears in danger of losing the division lead if the Packers win, and we would pretty much have to beat the Bears at Chicago to nab the tiebreaker over them. A Bears win keeps them in the lead for the NFC North title, regardless of what the Packers do, and makes that tie on Sunday the only thing separating Seattle from a virtual tie for the division lead. Go Bears.

GB @ DET: This game is the less important one of the two Wild Card contests, but nonetheless, Go Lions.

NO @ OAK: The last thing we want is another NFC South entrant in the wild card race. Go Raiders.

TB @ CAR: For one week, we will all be Panther fans. How exciting. GO PANTHERS.

Next week, all 32 teams will have completed their bye week, and everyone will have six games left to position themselves either for the 12 playoff spots available or a high pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. This might actually be the toughest week for Seahawk fans to sit through, because all of the machinations taking place will be out of our team's control. Stay sane, and I'll see you next week!